Bible Commentaries
Mark 6

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4035. A.D. 31.

Christ’s wisdom and mighty works astonish his countrymen, and yet he is contemned by them, because he was one of them, and they knew his origin and kindred, Mark 6:1-4 . Their unbelief prevents his working many miracles among them, but he teaches in their villages, Mark 6:5 , Mark 6:6 . He sends forth his disciples by two and two to preach, giving them power to confirm their doctrine by miracles, Mark 6:7-13 . The opinion of Herod, and others, concerning Christ, Mark 6:14-16 . The story of the martyrdom of John the Baptist, Mark 6:17-29 . Christ retires into a desert place with his disciples, and is followed by crowds of people, Mark 6:30-34 . He feeds five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, Mark 6:35-44 . He sends away his disciples by sea to Bethsaida, and retires himself to a mountain to pray, Mark 6:45 , Mark 6:46 . The disciples are overtaken by a storm and in great distress, and Christ comes unto them, walking on the water, Mark 6:47-52 . He performs many cures in the land of Gennesaret, Mark 6:53-56 . The chapter coincides partly with Matthew 13:53 , &c., and 14.

Verses 1-6

Mark 6:1-6. And he came into his own country, &c. For an explanation of this paragraph, see the notes on Matthew 13:53-58. Is not this the carpenter’s son? There can be no doubt that Jesus in his youth wrought with his supposed father Joseph. He could there do no mighty work Not consistently with his wisdom and goodness; it being inconsistent with his wisdom to work miracles there, where he knew the prejudices of the people would certainly prevent any good effect they might otherwise have had in promoting the great end he had in view in coming into the world; and with his goodness, seeing that he well knew his countrymen would reject whatever evidence could be given them of his being the Messiah, or a divinely-commissioned teacher. And, therefore, to have given them greater evidence would only have increased their guilt and condemnation. And he marvelled because of their unbelief He wondered at their perverseness in rejecting him upon such unreasonable grounds as the meanness of his parentage. It is justly observed here by Dr. Macknight, that

“the Jews in general seem to have mistaken their own prophecies, when they expected the Messiah would exalt their nation to the highest pitch of wealth and power, for this was an end unworthy of so grand an interposition of Providence. When the eternal Son of God came down from heaven, he had something infinitely more noble in view: namely, that by suffering and dying he might destroy him who had the power of death; that by innumerable benefits he might overcome his enemies; that by the bands of truth he might restrain the rebellious motions of men’s wills; that by the sword of the Spirit he might slay the monsters of their lusts; and that by giving them the spiritual armour he might put them in a condition to fight for the incorruptible inheritance, and exalt them to the joyful possession of the riches and honours of immortality. Wherefore, as these characters of the Messiah were in a great measure unknown to the Jews, he who possessed them was not the object of their expectation. And, though he laid claim to their submission by the most stupendous miracles, instead of convincing them, these miracles made him who performed them obnoxious to the hottest resentment of that proud, covetous, sensual people. It seems they could not bear to see one so low in life as Jesus was, doing things which they fancied were peculiar to that idol of their vanity, a glorious, triumphant, secular Messiah. Our Lord, therefore, having made this second trial with a view to see whether the Nazarenes would endure his ministry, and to show to the world that his not residing with them was owing to their stubbornness and wickedness, he left them, and visited the towns and villages in the neighbourhood where he expected to find a more favourable reception. Thus the unbelief of these Nazarenes obstructed Christ’s miracles, deprived them of his preaching, and caused him to withdraw a second time from their town. In which example the evil and punishment of mis-improving spiritual advantages, is clearly set forth before all who hear the gospel.”

Verse 7

Mark 6:7. He calleth unto him the twelve While Jesus preached among the villages in the neighbourhood of Nazareth, he sent his twelve apostles through the several cities of Galilee, to proclaim that God was about to establish the kingdom of the Messiah, wherein he would be worshipped in spirit and in truth; and instead of all external rites and ceremonies, would accept nothing but repentance, faith, and sincere obedience. Moreover, to confirm their doctrine, he gave them power to work miracles of healing, which also would tend to procure them acceptance. See Luke 9:1-2. By two and two We may suppose that Matthew had an eye to this circumstance in the catalogue which he has given of the apostles; for, chapter Mark 10:2-4, he has joined them together in pairs; very probably just as they were sent out now by their Master. Jesus ordered his disciples to go by two and two, doubtless that they might encourage each other in their work. The history of their election and commission is given, Matthew 10:1, &c.; where see the notes. But it seems they were not actually sent till now, when Jesus intended forthwith to enlarge the scene of his ministry. He, therefore, on this occasion renewed their powers, and repeated the principal things contained in the instructions formerly given.

Verses 8-9

Mark 6:8-9. He commanded that they should take nothing for their journey That they might be always unencumbered, free, ready for motion. Save a staff only He that had one might take it; but he that had not, was not to provide one. No scrip, no bread Our Lord intended by this mission to initiate them into their apostolic work. And it was, doubtless, an encouragement to them all their life after, to recollect the care which God took of them when they had left all they had, and went out quite unfurnished for such an expedition. In this view our Lord himself leads them to consider it, Luke 22:35, When I sent you forth without purse or scrip, lacked ye any thing? See the note on Matthew 10:9-10; where the particular directions here given are explained at large.

Verses 10-11

Mark 6:10-11. In what place soever ye enter See these verses explained, Matthew 10:11-15.

Verses 12-13

Mark 6:12-13. They went, and preached that men should repent They went away and published everywhere the glad tidings of the approach of the Messiah’s kingdom, and exhorted men on that consideration to turn to God in true repentance, forsaking all their sins in temper, word, and work, and in all respects bringing forth fruits worthy of repentance. They cast out many devils, &c. And did many other miracles. And anointed with oil many that were sick Which St. James gives as a general direction, (chap. Mark 5:11; Mark 5:15,) adding those peremptory words, And the Lord shall heal him. He shall be restored to health: not by the natural efficacy of the oil, but by the supernatural blessing of God. And it seems, this was the great standing means of healing desperate diseases in the Christian Church, long before extreme unction was used or heard of, which bears scarcely any resemblance to it; the former being used only as a means of health; the latter, only when life is despaired of. It is not said how long they were out on this their first expedition; but it is probable they spent a considerable time in it, for Luke says, Luke 9:6, they departed, and went through the towns, preaching the gospel, and healing everywhere.

Verses 14-16

Mark 6:14-16. And King Herod (the tetrarch; see notes on Matthew 2:1; Mat 14:1 ) heard of him While the apostles were making their circuit about the country, proclaiming everywhere the glories of their great Master, and working miracles in his name, information concerning him and his marvellous works came to the ears of King Herod; for his name was spread abroad And reached many places far more distant than the court of Herod, Matthew 4:24-25. And he said, that John the Baptist was risen from the dead This his own guilty conscience suggested, and he could not forbear speaking of it to those that were about him. Others said, That it is Elias; and others, That it is a prophet It is easy to account for the opinion of those who, upon Christ’s appearing in this part of the country, began to take notice of his miracles, and, being struck with them, imagined that he was Elias, or one of the prophets. For they expected that Elias would actually descend from heaven, and usher in the Messiah, Matthew 16:14; and that one of the prophets was to be raised from the dead for the same end. But when Herod heard thereof Of their various judgments concerning Jesus; he still said, It is John, whom I beheaded, &c. The suggestions of his guilty conscience were too powerful to be removed by the flattery of his servants; and he persevered in affirming that it was certainly John whom he had beheaded, and that he was risen from the dead.

Verses 17-26

Mark 6:17-26. For Herod had laid hold on John, &c. See the note on Matthew 14:3-7. Herodias had a quarrel against him This princess was the granddaughter of Herod the Great, by his son Aristobulus, and had formerly been married to her uncle Philip, the son of her grandfather, by Mariamne, and brother to Herod the tetrarch. Some time after that marriage this Herod, happening in his way to Rome to lodge at his brother’s house, fell passionately in love with Herodias, and on his return made offers to her; which she accepted, deserting her husband, who was only a private person, that she might share with the tetrarch in the honours of a crown. On the other hand, he, to make way for her, divorced his wife, the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia. Wherefore both parties being guilty of incest as well as adultery, they were reproved by the Baptist, with a courage highly becoming the messenger of God. For though he had experienced the advantage of the tetrarch’s friendship, he was not afraid to displease him when his duty required it. This freedom Herod resented to such a degree, that he laid his monitor in irons. But if Herod’s resentment of the liberty which John took with him was great, that of Herodias was much greater. The crime she was guilty of being odious, she could not bear to have it named, and far less reproved. She was, therefore, enraged to the highest pitch, and nothing less than the Baptist’s head would satisfy her: and ever since he had offended her, she had been plotting against his life, but had not yet been able to get her purpose accomplished. For Herod feared John Great and powerful as the king was, he stood in awe of John, though in low life, and for a while durst not attempt any thing against him; knowing that he was a just man and holy Such force has virtue sometimes upon the minds of the highest offenders! And observed him Or rather, preserved, or protected him, (as συνετηρει , it seems, should rather be rendered) namely, against all the malice and contrivances of Herodias. And when he heard him Probably sending for him occasionally; he did many things Recommended by him; and heard him gladly Delusive pleasure, while he continued in the practice of known sin! Thus it often happens that they who do not truly fear God and turn to him, will go certain lengths in obedience to his commandments, provided something be remitted to them by way of indulgence. But when they are more straitly pressed, throwing off the yoke, they not only become obstinate but furious, which shows us, that no man has any reason to be satisfied with his conduct because he obeys many of the divine laws, unless he has learned to subject himself to God in every respect, and without exception. When a convenient day was come Convenient for her purpose; that Herod made a supper for his lords, high captains, and chief estates Greek, τοις χιλιαρχοις και τοις πρωτοις , the tribunes (or commanders of one thousand men each) and principal men of Galilee: that is, to the great men of the court, the army, and the province. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced See notes on Matthew 14:6-12. For his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her Herod’s honour was like the conscience of the chief priests, Matthew 27:6. To shed innocent blood wounded neither the one nor the other!

Verse 30

Mark 6:30. The apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus Namely, at, or quickly after the time of the awful event of the Baptist’s death, related above; and told him all things, &c. Recounted to him; both what miracles they had done In his name and by his power; and what doctrine they had taught According to his direction. And he said, Come ye yourselves apart, &c. Come with me into the neighbouring desert; and rest a while After the fatigue of your journey, and let us endeavour to improve this awful dispensation by suitable meditations. For there were many coming and going, &c. To and from the public place in which they then were; and they had no leisure so much as to eat Namely, without interruption. And much less had they leisure for religious retirement and recollection. And they departed into a desert place privately Across a creek of the lake; and the people Who had been attending on his ministry; saw them departing, and many knew him

Though he was at some distance; and observing how he steered his course, and guessing right as to the place at which he intended to land, they ran afoot thither out of all cities By which they passed, thereby increasing their numbers continually. And with such eagerness did they pursue their journey, that they outwent them that had taken ship, and getting round to the shore where he was to land, they stood ready there to receive him in a large body. And Jesus, when he came out Of the ship; seeing much people Collected together, and considering what pains they had taken to meet him there, and the strong desire which they had thus manifested to receive religious instruction; and reflecting, likewise, how sadly they were neglected by those who ought to have been their spiritual guides; and how they were forced to wander from place to place, as sheep having no shepherd To feed and take care of them; he was moved with such compassion toward them That though he had come thither for retirement, he neither dismissed nor forsook them, but, on the contrary, receiving them in a most kind and condescending manner, began, immediately, to teach them many things Namely, concerning the kingdom of God, Luke 9:11; healing also as many sick as were brought to him.

Verses 35-44

Mark 6:35-44. When the day was far spent, &c. See notes on Matthew 14:15-21, where the circumstances of the miracle here recorded are explained at large. And they sat down in ranks Or rather, in squares, as Campbell renders πρασιαι , observing, “The word denotes a small plat, such as a flower-bed in a garden. It has this meaning in Eccl 24:31. I do not find it in the LXX., or in any other part of the New Testament. These beds were in the form of oblong squares. The word is therefore very improperly rendered either ranks or rows.” Thus, also, Dr. Macknight, “They sat down in oblong squares. The word συμποσιον , used here by Mark, signifies a company of guests at a table, but κλισια , the word in Luke, denotes properly as many of them as reclined on one bed, according to the eastern manner of eating. By Christ’s order therefore, the people were to sit down to this meal in companies, consisting some of fifty persons, some of a hundred, according as the ground would admit. The members of each company, I suppose, were to be placed in two rows, the one row with their faces toward those of the other, as if a long table had been between them. The first company being thus set down, the second was to be placed beside the first in a like form, and the third by the second, till all were set down, the direction of the ranks being up the hill. And as the two ranks of every division were formed into one company, by being placed with their faces toward each other; so they were distinguished from the neighbouring companies, by lying with their backs turned to their backs. And the whole body thus ranged, would resemble a garden plot, divided into seed-beds, which is the proper signification of πρασιαι , the name given by Mark to the several companies after they were formed.”

It has been observed, in the note on Matthew 14:19, &c., that the meat must have extended its dimensions, not in our Lord’s hands only, but in the hands of the multitude likewise, a circumstance which suggests further reasons for the people’s being set down in the manner above explained. “For as they were fed on a mountain, we may reasonably suppose that the ground was somewhat steep, and that they lay with their heads pointing up the hill, in such a manner, that reclining on their elbows, they were almost in a sitting posture, and had their eyes fixed on Jesus, who stood below them, in a place that was more plain, at a little distance from the ends of the ranks. Without doubt, therefore, they all heard his thanksgiving and prayer for the miracle, saw him give the disciples the meat, and were astonished above measure when they perceived that instead of diminishing it increased under his creating hands. Moreover, being set down in companies, and every company being divided into two ranks, which lay fronting each other, the ranks of all the companies were parallel, and pointed toward Jesus, and so were situated in such a manner that the disciples could readily bring the bread and fish to them that sat at the extremities of the ranks. To conclude, by this disposition there must have been such a space between the two ranks of each company, that every individual in it could easily survey the whole of his own company, as well those above him as those below him; and therefore, when the meat was brought, and handed from one to another, they would all follow it with their eyes, and see it swelling, not only in their own hands, but in the hands of their companions likewise, to the amazement and joy of every person present.”

Verses 45-56

Mark 6:45-56. For an explanation of these verses, see the notes on Matthew 14:22-36.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Mark 6". Benson's Commentary. 1857.